By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — The Republican-controlled Legislature, by all accounts, crafted a tight two-year budget with an eye on protection against Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ angry veto pen.
Is it veto-proof?
“No,” Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green), co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee and one of the architects of the $87.5 billion spending plan, told Empower Wisconsin Wednesday. “What we have done effectively is we have reduced his ability to make changes which would adversely affect the intent of the bill.”
The intent, according to Republicans, is to deliver an unprecedented $3.4 billion in tax relief, balance state funding commitments to education against a massive pot of federal relief cash, and keep state spending below 2 percent.
In short, the most conservative budget in a generation, according to Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg).
Evers, arguably the most liberal governor in Wisconsin history, told reporters this week he wants to “balance out” the “large amount of money in the budget for tax cuts.” He also thinks $128 million in new state funding for education — including a two-thirds commitment to K-12 schools — isn’t nearly enough.
“We’re going to be spending just about every waking moment over the next couple days figuring out what our position will be on that,” he said of his budget re-working ahead.
Marklein said Evers could use his veto pen — one of the most powerful in the nation — to delete sections of the budget. He could scratch out the $200 million in personal property tax relief to businesses, for instance. He does so at his own political peril, however. Evers’ first budget signing in 2019 was a clinic on partisan spite and, at times, unconstitutional vetoing.
Republicans, Marklein said, were extremely conscientious of the line-item veto Evers has at his disposal.
“Like on the income tax, we were sensitive to that to minimize the veto risk,” the senator said, referring to the $2.5 billion-plus in income tax reductions in the budget.
There remains a bigger roadblock for Evers and the veto. If he doesn’t sign the bill or goes crazy with the veto pen, he will immediately put the state at risk of losing $2.3 billion in federal COVID relief funding. The budget, as it stands, meets the appropriate level of education spending under the federal government’s maintenance of effort requirements tied to the aid.
If he doesn’t sign the bill, the state continues to operate under the last state budget, which expired on July 1.
The budget bill also has the backing of seven Democrats –– three in the Senate and four in the Assembly. It’s a rare “bipartisan” budget, with all Republicans voting for passage.
Even Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley (D-Mason) voted for the budget.
“That’s stunning, but it demonstrates, I believe, that this is an especially good budget for rural Wisconsin,” said Marklein who represents a rural district in the southwest portion of the state.